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German research minister on plagiarism charge

A confidential report of evaluators examining the PhD thesis of Annette Schavan, Germany’s research and education minister, has apparently confirmed charges of plagiarism. Copies of the 75-page report were leaked to the press on 12 October.

According to accounts in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel, the evaluators’ report claims that Schavan had intended to deceive in her 1980 thesis, written on aspects of education, by paraphrasing the work of others without appropriate citation and passing it off as her own.

The claims have been met with glee by plagiarism hunters who have unmasked several prominent politicians since the notorious exposure, in January last year, of extensive plagiarism in the law thesis of then-defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Zu Guttenberg resigned within a few weeks. His thesis was considered to be more than 90% cut-and-paste (see ‘German defence minister quits over plagiarism row‘).

But the claims against Schavan, first aired in May, have been met with concern by some, who note the relatively minor offences of the research minister — a patchwork of sloppy citation on around 60 of 350 or so pages, including instances in which unreferenced paraphrasing might seem justified to some.

The University of Düsseldorf, which awarded the doctorate, will meet on Wednesday 17 October to discuss the report and whether or not the degree should be revoked.

UPDATE 16 October: Schavan has denied the intention to deceive. Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared her support for the minister, and the heads of several research organizations in Germany have publicly condemned the leaking of the document before the University of Düsseldorf had the opportunity to draw its conclusions.


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